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October 31, 2005

From My Kitchen: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

If you're carving up a few pumpkins today, try roasting the seeds. They taste great and are a fun counterpoint to all the sugar you and the kids will be eating later.

Slow roasting is the key to success, since it takes a while for the seeds to get really crisp. Cooking in an oven that's too hot will lead to burnt, flabby seeds.

The proportions given in the recipe are approximations. Use the oil or butter sparingly, and stir the seeds often. It could take up to an hour and a half for them to get really crisp, but it's time well spent. Happy Halloween!

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: up to 90 minutes
Yield: varies

Seeds from one or more pumpkins
Olive oil or melted butter
Popcorn salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Remove all the fibers and pulp from the pumpkin seeds and wash them in a colander. Drain well, then rub the seeds in a kitchen towel to remove moisture.

In a large bowl, pour a small amount of olive oil or melted butter over the seeds and stir to coat. For about 1 cup of seeds, use approximately 1 tsp of oil -- you just want them coated enough for the salt to stick. Sprinkle the seeds with popcorn salt and toss to coat well. Place the seeds on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until golden and crisp. Stir every 10 minutes, and start testing for doneness after about 45 minutes. The roasting could take up to 90 minutes.


October 28, 2005

Jamie's Dinners: Paprika Sirloin Steak Wrap

Even more from the "Five Minute Wonders" chapter! This is a quick steak wrap that can be served in a Mediterranean style, as Oliver presents it in the book, or in a more Southwestern style. All you need is steak and tortillas to get started.

Oliver serves the paprika-rubbed steak in tortillas with hummus, arugula, and mustard cress. If you want a Tex-Mex version of the recipe, you could substitute black or pinto beans (whole or in a spread) and pico de gallo or fresh salsa.

His time for this recipe? 5 minutes and 45 seconds. My time? 15 minutes.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 serving

4 to 6 oz. beef sirloin or filet
Olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika (if not available, use regular paprika and a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper)
Salt and pepper
A handful of arugula
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Tortillas (about 2 large burrito size, or 3 to 4 small taco size)
1 bunch of mustard cress
2 Tbsp hummus
1 Tbsp sour cream

Heat a griddle or frying pan until very hot. While heating, score each side of the steak and rub with olive oil. Season with the paprika, cayenne if using, and salt and pepper. Sear in the hot pan for about 2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on how you want the steak cooked and how thick it is.

While steak is cooking, mix the arugula with the tomatoes and dress with lemon juice and olive oil.

Remove the steak from the pan and wipe the pan with paper towels. Briefly heat the tortillas in the hot pan.

To serve, slice the steak into thin slices and serve atop tortillas with the arugula salad, mustard cress, hummus, and sour cream.

For Southwestern-Style Steak Wraps: Instead of arugula and mustard cress, mix 2 ripe, chopped tomatoes with a handful of chopped cilantro, and 2 or 3 chopped green onions. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Serve the steak on tortillas with the fresh salsa, sour cream, and some black or pinto beans or bean spread instead of the hummus.

October 24, 2005

Jamie's Dinners: Salmon and Couscous

Yet another "Five Minute Wonders" recipe. I just can't stop making them!

This one needs a bit of tweaking, but the overall idea is very tasty. Using salmon fillets means that the skin is still on. Comedy can ensue when you're trying to eat it, since the salmon is lying atop a bed of couscous and vegetables, not sitting flat on a plate. If you're trying to avoid the skin and fatty dark flesh, things can get silly really quickly. I recommend that you pull the salmon flesh away from the skin before you serve it. That way you can discard the skin, and you won't find yourself trying to maneuver around errant slices of zucchini while peeling the salmon away from the skin.

About proportions: this is a pretty big serving for one person. It makes a hearty dinner. I used 2/3 cup of couscous, instead of the 3/4 cup called for in the recipe, and had more than enough. If you want to make this dish as a lunch for two, you could use 1 cup of couscous and about 9 or 10 oz. of salmon. Increase the veggies slightly, and ta-da! Lunch for you and a friend.

Of all the "Five Minute Wonders" I've tried, this one took the longest. But 20 minutes is still mighty fast, and if you don't mind really al dente vegetables and/or medium-rare salmon, you could cook it for a shorter time. I wanted the vegetables to be crisp-tender, and the salmon fully cooked, so I gave it about 10 total minutes on the stovetop.

If you've been reading all the "Five Minute Wonders" recipes, you may have noticed that every last one of them contains a "small red chili" on the ingredients list. This appears to be Jamie Oliver's go-to seasoning for quick recipes. I've made them optional, since I don't always need everything to be spicy. Add them if the mood strikes you. If small red chilis are not readily available in your area, substitute serrano chilis or whatever small hot peppers you can find.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 large serving (use increased proportions as suggested below for 2 lunch servings)

2/3 cup couscous (for 2 servings, use 1 cup couscous)
6 to 8 oz. salmon fillet, skin on (for 2 servings, use 9 to 10 oz.)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks (for 2 servings, use a medium zucchini)
1 small handful asparagus tips (for 2 servings, use a full bunch of asparagus tips)
1 fresh red chili, seeded and chopped (use whatever chilis are available) (optional)
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Small handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
Crème fraîche, optional

Put couscous in a bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover. Cover with plastic or a saucepan lid and set aside to absorb the water.

Slice the salmon width-ways into finger-sized strips. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a small nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, and add the salmon strips on their sides. Add the zucchini and asparagus (and chili if using) and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring the vegetables occasionally, and turning the salmon over halfway through.

Mix the tomatoes, lemon juice, cilantro, and 2 Tbsp olive oil (4 Tbsp if making 2 servings) into the couscous. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the salmon strips to a plate and flake the flesh away from the skin, trying to keep the pieces together as much as possible. Discard the skin.

Add the couscous mixture to the veggies in the pan and mix together. Add the salmon back to the pan, put a lid on top, and turn the heat up to high, just to heat everything through, about 1 minute. Slide the mixture onto a plate and spoon on some crème fraîche, if desired.

Jamie's Dinners: Chorizo and Tomato Omelette

Another "Five Minute Wonders" recipe. Oddly enough, I had some trouble with this one.

It's just an omelette, right? How hard could it be? Well, when you've got the wrong ingredients, things can go awry.

Oliver's recipe calls for Spanish chorizo, and the picture of the dish shows nice slices of cohesive sausage sitting atop an open-faced omelette. I used domestic chorizo, which in the western U.S. means Mexican style. This chorizo was not so cohesive. My slices fell apart as soon as they hit the hot pan, and I ended up having to make a sort of scrambled egg 'n sausage combo. It tasted good, but it didn't look very pretty. For a more attractive omelette, you need a firm, sliceable sausage.

Oliver cooks this omelette open-faced, and doesn't give any instructions for making sure that the eggs are all cooked through. He simply says, "fry until the eggs set, giving you a lovely little omelette." But the picture shows the sides of the eggs looking awfully brown and hard, perhaps even leathery. I don't like my eggs like that, so I recommend that you lift up the edge of the omelette as soon as it sets, and tilt the pan so that the uncooked eggs on top will flow down to the bottom of the pan. Don't just set the pan on the heat and leave it until the eggs are set -- that'll result in a tough texture.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving

Olive oil
1 small whole Spanish-style chorizo sausage, or other spicy, sliceable sausage, thickly sliced
1 ripe tomato, seeded and sliced
2 small sprigs fresh marjoram or parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped (optional)
3 eggs
1/2 a fresh red chili, seeded and thinly sliced (use whatever small chilis are available) (optional)
Salt and pepper
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Heat some olive oil in a small nonstick pan. Add the chorizo slices and cook for 1 minute, then add the tomato and herbs. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl, add the chili if using, and season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pan and mix the eggs around a little, then throw in the onion. Cook until eggs are set, lifting up the edges of the omelette to let the uncooked egg flow underneath. Jamie Oliver suggests serving the omelette with some arugula dressed with olive oil.

October 21, 2005

Jamie's Dinners: Sweet Vanilla Risotto with Poached Fruit and Chocolate

In other words, posh rice pudding. This is a lovely dessert, and if you like rice pudding you'll enjoy this risotto-style twist on an old favorite.

In the original recipe, Oliver makes this dessert with peaches, and suggests strawberries, apricots, or rhubarb as alternatives. Since it's October and peaches are a distant memory, I used strawberries. The berries, lightly poached in orange juice, provided a nice acidic counterpoint to the sweet, somewhat bland vanilla risotto.

To serve this dessert, you plate it up, garnish it with the poached fruit and poaching liquid, and then push a few chunks of bittersweet chocolate into the hot risotto to melt. I recommend using the strongest-flavored, bitterest chocolate you can get your hands on. I tried a couple different kinds of bittersweet chocolate, and the bitterest one was the winner: Valrhona Le Noir Extra Amer (85 % cocoa). Its bitterness provides a lovely contrast to the sweet rice and tangy berries.

The two chocolates, white and bittersweet, are what will make or break this dessert, so don't skimp on quality. The bittersweet chocolate needs to be at least 70% cocoa solids. Poor-quality white chocolate has a dreadful, insipid flavor, so make sure you find one that's made with real cocoa butter. Not, heaven forbid, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil! Yuck.

The risotto took longer to cook than the recipe specified. Oliver says to cook it at a low simmer for about 16 or 17 minutes, but my rice was still somewhat hard at that point. It took an additional 10 minutes for the rice to be soft and creamy. I also needed an additional 1/2 cup of milk. Rice can vary in how quickly it cooks and how much liquid it can absorb, so test your grains as they cook, and add more liquid if necessary.

The recipe below contains the instructions for poached peaches. If you're using different fruit, it may need to be cooked for a shorter time. I gently poached about 1 pound of sliced strawberries for only 3 to 4 minutes, enough to soften them slightly but not to turn them into strawberry sauce. The fruit should still hold its shape and have a fresh taste.

For clarity's sake, I've modified the ingredients list somewhat from the way it's given in Jamie's Dinners. The poaching ingredients are listed separately from the risotto ingredients, divided ingredients are noted, and the amount of wine is specified as 8 oz., rather than Oliver's "wineglass."

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: about 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

4 ripe peaches, halved (or other fruit, see note above)
4 Tbsp sugar
1/2 of a cinnamon stick
Zest and juice of 1 orange

6 Tbsp butter, divided
2 vanilla beans
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
2 Tbsp sugar
8 oz. white wine
3 1/2 to 4 cups whole milk
3 3/4 oz. good-quality white chocolate, grated or chopped
3 3/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), broken into chunks
Fresh mint leaves for garnish, optional

In a small saucepan, combine the 4 Tbsp sugar, the cinnamon stick, the orange juice and zest, and the fruit. Cover and slowly simmer until the fruit has softened (about 10 to 15 minutes for peaches or sliced rhubarb, 4 to 5 minutes for apricots, 3 to 4 minutes for sliced strawberries). If using peaches or apricots, remove the skins and pits once softened, slice the fruit into large chunks, and return it to the poaching liquid. Remove the pan from heat and set aside until serving time.

Score the vanilla beans lengthwise and remove the seeds with a knife (reserve the bean pods for another use). In a large, high-sided, thick-bottomed pot, melt 4 Tbsp of butter over medium-low heat. Add the vanilla seeds and stir, 1 minute. Add the rice and sugar, then turn the heat up to medium and add the wine, stirring constantly. Once the wine has cooked almost away, begin adding the milk, about 1/3 of a cup at a time. After each addition, stir well. Keep the rice on a slow, constant simmer and add more milk as soon as each addition is nearly absorbed. Stir as often as possible. Once the rice has been cooking for about 15 minutes, begin testing the grains for doneness. Continue to cook, adding more milk, until the rice is cooked through and creamy. This could take up to 30 minutes. When rice is done and milk has all been absorbed (3 1/2 to 4 cups, depending on the rice), remove from the heat and add the white chocolate and the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter. Stir to combine, then cover and let sit for a minute.

To serve: Discard the cinnamon stick from the fruit poaching liquid. Spoon the hot risotto onto dessert plates or shallow bowls. Push a few chunks of bittersweet chocolate into the center of the risotto. Place the fruit slices or chunks around the perimeter of the plate, and spoon some of the poaching liquid around as well. Garnish with mint leaves, if desired. By the time you're ready to eat the risotto, the chocolate will be melted. Delicious!

October 20, 2005

Jamie's Dinners: Beef with Bok Choy, Mushrooms, and Noodles

Another stellar recipe from the "Five Minute Wonders" chapter. This is a beef noodle bowl, extremely quick to make, and very flavorful.

Jamie Oliver says he made this one in 5 minutes, 12 seconds. I wasn't nearly as quick, but it did come together for me in about 10 minutes, not counting the time needed to bring the noodle-soaking water up to a boil.

I've made a couple of adjustments; in the original recipe, Oliver says to slice the ginger into thin slices, but this means there are, well, ginger slices in the finished noodle bowl. I'm not a fan of biting into a hunk of ginger, so the second time I made the recipe, I grated the ginger instead, and was much happier with the results. It doesn't take any longer to grate it than it does to slice it, so there's no downside. Use whichever technique you prefer.

The original recipe calls for 4 oz. of rice noodles (you may find them labeled "rice sticks" in your grocery store), but that gave me too many noodles. In my second attempt, I reduced the amount by half, and had plenty of noodles for one serving.

If you can't find shiitake or oyster mushrooms, you can substitute regular button mushrooms, although the flavor won't be nearly as woodsy. Dried shiitakes could also be used: simply soak them in hot water while you're soaking the noodles. The original recipe calls for adding the mushrooms together with the chicken broth, but I thought they tasted better if they were browned a bit first.

Prep Time: about 5 minutes (plus time to bring water to the boil)
Cook Time: about 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving

2 to 4 oz. thin rice noodles (also called rice sticks)
4 oz. beef sirloin
Olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced or grated
1 fresh red chili, seeded and thinly sliced (If not available, use serranos, or whatever small chilis you can find)
A small handful of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, wiped clean and torn or sliced (about 1/2 cup sliced)
1 cup chicken stock
1 baby bok choy, tough stem removed, sliced lengthwise into quarters

Boil about 2 quarts of water and soak the noodles according to package directions, about 8 minutes. Rub the beef with the olive oil, sprinkle with the cumin and salt and rub the spices in. Place in a really hot frying pan and sear on one side. Turn the beef over, add the onion, ginger, and chili, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring the vegetables. Add the mushrooms and brown lightly for 1 or 2 minutes, then add the stock and bok choy and cook for another minute. Remove the beef and thinly slice. Drain the noodles and add to the pan. Pour the noodles and broth into a large bowl and top with the beef slices.

October 19, 2005

Jamie's Dinners: Stewed Fruit Crumble

If you like fruit cobblers or brown betty, you'll love this recipe. I did, however, start to run into trouble with Jamie Oliver's loosey-goosey style here.

The end results were delicious, but the road getting there wasn't always smooth. Oliver seems to write as though he's got every confidence in the world that the reader can fill in the blanks or figure things out for themselves. If you're a novice in the kitchen, Oliver's recipes may at times make you feel as though you're rowing without a paddle. If you're an experienced cook, you'll probably be able to make the necessary mental adjustments, but it can be annoying to have to figure out exactly what size baking dish you'll need, or how much a "knob" of butter might be.

I ran into some problems with technique in this stewed fruit recipe. Oliver has the cook make a compote on the stovetop, and he instructs you to add the peaches and plums with their skins still on and pits intact. You're supposed to cook it until the fruit is tender, and then "when done, remember to remove the skins and pits from the peaches and plums." So what I have is a saucepan full of hot fruit and really hot sugar syrup, and I'm supposed to, what? Reach in with a spoon? Tongs? And then what? Pull the skins off and somehow grab the pits? Or am I supposed to drain the fruit from the syrup and then peel and pit it? While it's all still really, really hot? And then put it back into the syrup?

None of these questions are answered. I ended up draining the syrup off, peeling and pitting the fruit (burning my fingers and cursing like a sailor), then adding the two back together. This is not the best way. I realize that Oliver is trying to minimize labor by having the cook make the compote this way, but it doesn't work. I recommend that you blanch the stone fruit first, then peel it, pit it, and slice it up. Then you can cook it in the sugar syrup. The other method is just too messy and frustrating.

The crumble recipe doesn't bother to instruct the cook that the butter needs to be at room temperature before it can be rubbed together with flour to make a sort of streusel. Again, an experienced cook will be able to figure this out, but for the novice, a frustrating attempt at rubbing together cold butter and flour could be in the offing, since Oliver assumes you already know how to make a crumb topping. The recipe says to bake the crumble in the oven in 4 ovenproof bowls, or to make 1 large crumble if you prefer. But there's no indication of what size bowls or baking dish you might need, so I had to eyeball it. I made the crumble in an approximately 8-by-12-inch oval dish, but it was quite full and nearly bubbled over in the oven. I recommend you use at least a 9-by-13-inch dish, or even a 10-by-15-inch dish. If you opt to divide it into 4 servings, as Oliver recommends, you will have enormous portions. I'd say the yield is closer to 8 servings, so if individual servings are the way you want to go, use 8 bowls. If the topping isn't brown by the time the filling is bubbling, put it under the broiler for a minute or two to get it nice and golden. Watch carefully, since it will burn in a heartbeat.

The stewed fruit didn't thicken up quite as much as I wanted it to, so I added some cornstarch before baking it in the oven. Depending on what kind of fruit you use, and how thick you want it, you may need to add more or less cornstarch. Start with a little; you can always add more if necessary.

The spices that are used to flavor the sugar syrup can be varied. You can use any or all of the spices listed below. Or try lemon zest and ginger, or almond extract, or allspice berries, or a little fruit liqueur or wine. The recipe is infinitely flexible. And it's an excellent way to use fruit that's not quite ripe, since the stewing process will render it nice and tender, and the sugar syrup will sweeten it right up. Fruit suggestions are made below, but you can use whatever's in season and available.

The stewed fruit is one of the "Family Tree" recipes in Jamie's Dinners: master recipes that lend themselves to several different preparations. I used the stewed fruit to make a crumble, one of 5 preparations that Oliver gives. The other 4 recipes that the fruit can used for are listed below.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 40 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into eighths
4 peaches
4 plums
1 pound rhubarb, OR 2 nectarines, OR 1 pound strawberries, OR 2 apples (peeled, seeded, cored, and sliced), OR whatever fruit is in season/looks good
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blackberries

1 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
zest of 1/4 of an orange

For the stone fruit (peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines): Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the fruit and blanch, about 2 minutes. Drain and plunge the fruit into a large bowl of ice water. Peel, then halve the fruit and remove the pits. Slice into eighths (peaches, nectarines) or quarters (plums, apricots).

For the sugar syrup: In a large, high-sided pot, combine 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp water with the sugar. Score down the length of the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with a knife. Put the vanilla pod and seeds into the pot. Add other spices and orange zest. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is clear, then remove cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Turn heat down to a simmer and add the firmest fruits (pears, apples, peaches, plums). Cook for about 3 minutes, then add strawberries or rhubarb. Cook until the fruit is tender, about 10 minutes. Add blackberries and raspberries and cook for about 2 minutes. If fruit mixture looks too watery, add cornstarch slurry (mix 1 tsp cornstarch with 1 tsp cold water and dissolve completely). Add more cornstarch mixture if necessary. The fruit should be slightly thickened before you put it in the oven. Turn heat off and let fruit sit in the syrup while preparing the crumble topping.

Crumble Topping
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
8 Tbsp butter (1 stick), cut into 1-inch cubes and softened at room temperature for about 30 minutes
6 Tbsp sugar
Pinch salt

Rub the flour, butter, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl, using your fingertips. You want a texture similar to coarse cornmeal. Put the stewed fruit in a large (9-by-13-inch, or larger) baking dish. Pour the topping over the fruit and bake at 350 degrees until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden, about 20 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream, sweetened whipped cream, or crème fraîche.

Other "Family Tree" recipe ideas for Stewed Fruit (not tested by me):

Syllabub: Whip 2 1/2 cups heavy cream to form soft peaks. Combine with the stewed fruit and serve in individual glasses or bowls with a little grated orange zest sprinkled on top. Oliver says this serves 4 people, but I think it would yield more like 6 or 8 servings.

On Toast: Toast some thick slices of bread (challah or egg bread would be good choices), then butter and top with some stewed fruit. Crumble some goat cheese or ricotta over the top, and drizzle with a little honey. You can make as many servings as you wish. This sounds like a lovely idea for breakfast or brunch.

Phyllo Pastry Parcels: Defrost a package of frozen phyllo sheets. Keep a damp cloth over them while you're not working with them. Take 2 sheets and brush with melted butter, then stick them together. Cut them into a square 8-by-8 inches and spoon 2 Tbsp of stewed fruit into the middle of the square. Crumble over a little ricotta cheese or cottage cheese and sprinkle on some brown sugar, then bring the sides of the pastry up and squeeze them together to make a little parcel. Repeat with the rest of the phyllo sheets and stewed fruit. Brush the tops with melted butter and bake on a sheet lined with parchment paper at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and crisp.

With Yogurt: Combine some plain yogurt with stewed fruit, honey, and a scattering of rolled oats or granola.

Jamie's Dinners: Parmesan Fish Fillets with Avocado and Cress Salad

Jamie's Dinners has a chapter called "Five Minute Wonders." These are super-quick dinner ideas that can be pulled together in a flash.

Oliver says that he timed himself making these recipes, and some of them took only 3 minutes! My results weren't nearly that speedy, but this fish and salad meal took me only 15 minutes to prepare, start to finish. And it was delicious!

I'll be testing several more of the "Five Minute Wonders" to see how quickly I can make them. I'm confident that they'll all taste dandy.

Oliver calls for "white fish fillets," so use whatever looks freshest at the market. Cod, halibut, perch, or orange roughy would all be good choices.

The cress that's pictured in the book looks a whole lot more delicate than the watercress that was available at my grocery store. I simply chopped the leaves off the top of the bunch, leaving the stems behind. If you've got tender mustard or watercress available, you could use the entire bunch, but if not, be sure to cut off the tough stems.

A note on yield: all of the "Five Minute Wonder" dishes are single servings. If you're going to make these dishes for more than just yourself, the ingredients can easily be doubled or quadrupled. Preparation and cooking times may be slightly longer.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving

2 Tbsp flour, seasoned generously with salt and pepper
6 oz. white fish fillets (remove skin, if necessary)
1 egg, beaten
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup)
Olive oil
1/2 of a fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped (if not available, use serrano or other small chili, or leave it out altogether if you like)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 bunch of watercress or mustard cress, stems removed if tough (see note, above), rinsed and shaken dry
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Get a nonstick frying pan really hot. Dust the fish fillets with the seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Dip the fillets into the beaten egg, then press into the grated Parmesan, coating nicely. Add a little olive oil to the hot pan, then fry the fish fillets until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Throw in the chilis, if using. Mix together the avocado and cress with the extra-virgin olive oil and the lemon juice. Serve the salad alongside the fish.

Jamie's Dinners: Chicken Tikka Masala

This is an excellent rendition of an Indian-restaurant classic. Jamie Oliver understands the necessity of slowly cooking the spices to coax the most flavor out of them, and the results are excellent.

Oliver's got a penchant for vague ingredient amounts; in this recipe, he calls for a "small handful" of cashews or almonds. I measured my small handful out, and it was 1/3 cup. I believe the sauce could benefit from even more nuts -- up to 1/2 cup would work well.

In an effort to get my onions as thin as possible, I sliced them on a mandoline. If you have one, or a vegetable slicer, this is a good time to give it a workout. Of course, you can always slice the onions by hand with a very sharp knife.

I must have been lazy yesterday, because I also chose to forgo the knife and use a mini-chopper for the garlic, ginger, and chilis. These can also be chopped by hand, but if you've already got the chopper or food processor out to grind the nuts, why not throw the aromatics in there and chop them right up?

Oliver doesn't specify, but I believe it's preferable to use raw cashews. If you can't find them at a health-food store or your regular grocery store, use raw blanched almonds instead. Don't use roasted nuts; they don't grind up as finely and won't help to thicken the sauce.

This sauce doesn't get terribly thick. It's not a gloopy gravy, so don't worry if it seems a bit thin (like half-and-half consistency). The rice will sop it all up. Oliver suggests serving the chicken with "a huge bowl of steaming basmati rice, some poppadums and lots of cold beer." All excellent ideas. If you prefer, you can substitute my recipe for Saffron Rice Pulau, listed below.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

6 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled
2 or 3 fresh red chilis, seeded (if you can't find red chilis, use serranos, or whatever small, hot chilis are available)
Olive oil
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3 Tbsp garam masala, divided
generous 3/4 cup plain yogurt
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
1 Tbsp butter
2 medium onions, sliced very thin
2 Tbsp tomato purée
a small handful (1/3 to 1/2 cup) cashews or almonds, ground very fine in a food processor or mini-chopper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh cilantro, chopped

If you're using a mini-chopper, use it to finely mince the garlic, ginger, and chilis. Alternately, you can grate them on the smallest teeth of a grater, or chop with a knife.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan. Add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, remove from the heat immediately and add them to the garlic mixture (once mustard seeds start popping, they will pop all over the place, so watch carefully and remove from heat as soon as the first one goes "pop."). Add the paprika, cumin, coriander, and 2 Tbsp of the garam masala. Put half of this mix in a large bowl, add the yogurt, and stir in the chicken, making sure to coat all sides with the marinade. Let it sit for about a half-hour.

Melt the butter in the large saucepan and add the sliced onions and remaining half of the garlic-spice mixture. Cook gently for at least 15 minutes. Do not brown the onions; you're trying to soften them up and mellow the spices. Add the tomato puree, ground nuts, 2 1/2 cups of water, and 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir well and bring to a gentle boil. Let the sauce reduce and thicken slightly (about 5 minutes), then reduce heat to low.

Cook the marinated chicken on a grill or under the broiler, until just cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, add the cream and remaining 1 Tbsp of garam masala to the sauce and bring it up to a boil, then add the chicken. Check the seasoning, adding salt or cayenne pepper if desired. Top the chicken with cilantro and squeeze lime juice over the top. Serve with basmati rice or Saffron Rice Pulau.

Saffron Rice Pulau
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1/4 cup hot water
2 Tbsp butter
2 cinnamon sticks
10 whole cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed well
1/3 cup raw cashews

Put the saffron threads in the hot water and set aside to steep until serving time.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the cinnamon, cloves, and cumin seeds and stir, 1 minute. Drain the rice well, then add to the pot and stir-fry until the grains are coated and the rice begins to smell fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves. Just before serving, pour in the saffron water and stir well to combine. To garnish, roast the raw cashews in a 350 degree oven until light golden, about 8 to 10 minutes (watch carefully, nuts burn quickly). Top rice with nuts and serve alongside Chicken Tikka Masala.

October 17, 2005

Wolfgang Puck: Live, Love, Eat!


Wolfgang's Greatest Hits

That would be a fitting subtitle for this book. It's a selection of favorites from Puck's various restaurants, and old family recipes from his native Austria. The book lacks a unifying theme, unless the theme is "Hey, check out some of my recipes!"

Not that that's a bad thing. Wolfgang Puck is an extremely successful restaurateur, and with good reason. His food is tasty and his tastes are eclectic. He's successful in several different cuisines; he was one of the first to embrace the idea of Asian fusion cooking, and his Asian-inspired recipes are outstanding. He also cooks a great deal of Italian food, and he's famous for his pizzas. His Austrian roots show through in several recipes in the book, including Wiener schnitzel.

The recipes are clearly written, and there's no confusion about instructions or techniques. The flavors are strong and assured. Everything I cooked from the book was successful. Not that there aren't some problems, however. Puck's got a lifetime of experience as a restaurant chef, so when he adapts his recipes for a home kitchen, some things don't quite translate. He's fond of calling for teeny little amounts of ingredients that might be commonplace in one of his restaurants (goat cheese, or mascarpone, for example) but aren't so common in many home kitchens. A recipe that requires only 2 tablespoons of goat cheese puts the home cook in the position of having to buy 3 or 4 ounces of the stuff, only to have most of it left over. Puck also sometimes calls for techniques that make sense in a restaurant, such as cooking an entire chicken to yield meat for chicken salad, that probably aren't the most time- or cost-effective methods to use at home. I've pointed out a few of these instances in the recipes.

Most of the dishes in Live, Love, Eat! would be fun to make for a party, or on the weekend. Super-quick dinner ideas, these are not. But the time investment won't be wasted. Puck's recipes always yield delicious results. Just be sure to read through them carefully and look for ways to streamline preparation in your own home kitchen. Not every vegetable needs to be finely diced. Not all the time.

Definitely a cookbook I'll be coming back to. It's not a comprehensive look at Puck's cuisine, but it does nicely as an introduction to his cooking and recipes.

October 14, 2005

Live, Love, Eat!: Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Wolfgang Puck's version of the perennial favorite. Is his better than all the others out there?

Well...it's tasty, no doubt about that. But it's also restaurant-y, in that Puckish way I've come to know. The recipe calls for mayonnaise. Just like every other version of spinach-artichoke dip does. But then it also calls for mascarpone cheese. And crème fraîche. And goat cheese. But only little bits of those things: a third of a cup here, a couple of tablespoons there. In Puck's restaurants, no doubt there are multiple uses for mascarpone and crème fraîche and goat cheese, so a few tablespoons are easy to find. But when you're cooking at home, it's likely that you'll have to go and buy all of these things. So then you've got about two-thirds of a container of crème fraîche, ditto with the mascarpone, plus about 3 or 4 ounces of goat cheese...now you need to find another recipe to use all this stuff up!

If you're a dedicated cook who's in the kitchen every day, having these leftovers probably won't be a big deal for you. But if you're making this dip for a holiday party or bridal shower or birthday, it's kind of a drag to have to pay for three different dairy products that you might not end up using for anything else. Especially since this dip doesn't taste all that different from a dip that's made with just mayonnaise and sour cream. Puck's recipe is below, as is a simpler version. If you have the inclination (and maybe you're going to be making tiramisú anyway), by all means give the Live, Love, Eat! version a try. But if you don't want to have leftover mascarpone, crème fraîche, and goat cheese, use the simpler recipe. They taste pretty much the same.

The simpler version also uses frozen chopped spinach, which eliminates the need for blanching fresh spinach that's required in Puck's recipe. I've also recommended fresh garlic as a substitute for the roasted garlic that Puck calls for. If you have roasted garlic on hand or are going to make it for another recipe, go ahead and use it. But I don't think it's necessary to roast an entire head of garlic just to have a couple of tablespoons for the dip. Fresh garlic will work just fine.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: about 6 to 8 appetizer servings

3 bunches of fresh spinach, thoroughly cleaned and stemmed, OR
3 packages (9 oz. each) baby spinach leaves
1 package (9 or 10 oz.) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp goat cheese
2 Tbsp roasted garlic (see note, above) OR 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
1/4 tsp paprika

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. On the counter near the pot. place a large mixing bowl filled with ice water. Blanch the spinach, 1 package or bunch at a time, for about 1 minute. Using tongs, transfer the spinach to the ice water. Repeat with the other two packages of spinach. Drain spinach in a colander, squeezing it with your hands to get all the water out.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the artichoke hearts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until very coarsely chopped, about 5 seconds. Add the mayonnaise, mascarpone, crème fraîche, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, goat cheese, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Process until just combined, about 5 more seconds. Add the blanched spinach and pulse just until thoroughly blended. The dip should still have some texture. Spoon into a shallow 3- to 4-cup capacity baking dish.

Toss the remaining Parmesan with the bread crumbs and paprika. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the dip. Bake until dip is heated through and topping is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with bread or crackers for dipping.

Tried and True Spinach-Artichoke Dip , adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
13 to 14 oz. can of artichoke hearts, drained, OR 10 oz. package frozen artichoke hearts, drained
10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 Tbsp bread crumbs
1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pulse artichoke hearts in a food processor until roughly chopped, about 5 seconds. Add mayonnaise, sour cream, Parmesan, onions, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse for about 5 seconds. Add spinach and pulse to combine thoroughly, leaving some texture in the dip. Spoon into a shallow baking dish. Combine bread crumbs with olive oil and sprinkle on top of the dip. Bake until browned and heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with bread or crackers.

Live, Love, Eat!: Pizza with Smoked Salmon and Caviar

This is Wolfgang Puck's most famous pizza, the signature dish of his restaurant Spago. It's outstanding. I highly recommend giving it a whirl.

Even if you don't have much experience with pizza dough, you'll find this easy to make. The dough is extremely easy to work with. The pizza is basically a combination of three different subrecipes: Pizza Dough, Chili and Garlic Oil, and Dill Cream. If you make all of these elements in advance, assembly of the pizza will take only a few minutes.

It's a very attractive pizza, the pink salmon contrasting nicely with the green chives and white Dill Cream. It would make an excellent appetizer for a holiday party, or a fantastic brunch entrée. The caviar is optional; I skipped it, since I'm not a huge caviar fan, and the pizza does not suffer at all from its absence.

The recipe instructs the cook to bake the pizza on a pizza stone, but all is not lost if you don't have one. Use a regular baking sheet and cook the pizza on the bottom rack of the oven. To help prevent sticking, sprinkle a bit of cornmeal or semolina on the baking sheet just before you put the pizza dough on it. Puck notes that to make this recipe ahead of time, you can bake the pizza for 5 minutes, then remove it from the oven and set aside. When ready to serve, return it to the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove it, top it, and serve. I'd only bake the pizzas about 1 hour ahead. Any longer and they will start to get hard.

Assembly instructions are for each individual 8-inch pizza. Repeat for each pizza, or increase the topping amounts if you're making 2 larger pies.

Pizza Dough

Prep Time: about 1 hour
Yield: enough dough for 4 eight-inch pizzas, or 2 twelve-inch pizzas
Make Ahead: up to 2 days

1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
1 tsp honey
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil

Dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup of the warm water in a small bowl.

In a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and the remaining 3/4 cup of water and mix on low speed until the dough comes together and clusters around the dough hook, about 5 minutes.

(To make the dough in a food processor: Combine the flour and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the yeast mixture, water, and oil and process until the dough begins to form a ball that rides around the side of the bowl on top of the blade.)

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand 2 to 3 minutes longer. The dough should feel smooth and firm. Cover the dough with a clean, damp cloth and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes (when ready, the dough will stretch easily as it is lightly pulled).

Divide the dough into four balls. Work each ball by pulling down the sides and tucking them under the bottom of the ball. Repeat 4 or 5 times to form a smooth, even ball. Then, on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under the palm of your hand until the top of the dough is smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Repeat with each ball. Cover the balls with the damp cloth and let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Chili and Garlic Oil

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours to infuse at room temperature
Yield: 1/2 cup
Make Ahead: 2 to 3 weeks

The recipe in the book makes 2 cups of oil. This is way more than I'd use in a couple of weeks, so I've reduces the proportions. To make more oil, double the ingredients (for 1 cup) or quadruple the ingredients (for 2 cups).

About 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes

In a small saucepan, combine the garlic and oil. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook until the garlic turns golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not overcook; if the garlic gets too brown, it will taste bitter.

Remove from heat and stir in the red pepper flakes. Leave at room temperature for at least 2 hours to infuse the oil. Strain into a glass jar or container, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Dill Cream

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Yield: about 1 3/4 cups
Make Ahead: up to 1 week

1 1/2 cups sour cream or crème fraîche
3 Tbsp minced shallots
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill leaves
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate.

To Assemble the Smoked Salmon and Caviar Pizzas:
For each 8-inch pizza:
1 ball of Pizza Dough
1 Tbsp Chili and Garlic Oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 Tbsp Dill Cream
2 1/2 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon
1 tsp fresh chopped chives
1 Tbsp caviar or salmon roe, optional

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven (use pizza stone on the middle rack; baking sheet on the lower rack).

On a lightly floured surface, stretch or roll out the dough into an 8-inch circle. Brush the dough with the Chili and Garlic Oil and arrange the red onion on the pizza. Slide the pizza onto the baking sheet or pizza stone with a pizza paddle or large spatula. Bake until the crust is golden, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven and set it on a cutting board or work surface. Use a knife or the back of a spoon to spread with the Dill Cream. Arrange the slices of smoked salmon over the entire pizza. Sprinkle with chives. Using a pizza cutter or large sharp knife, slice the pizza into 4 or 6 slices. If you like, spoon a little caviar into the center of each slice. Serve immediately.

Live, Love, Eat!: Turkey Mushroom Burgers with Chunky Tomato Salsa Compote

An excellent example of Puck's California cuisine. The burgers are paired with a cooked salsa that complements the savory mushroom flavors. This would be a fun recipe for a weekend picnic or barbeque.

But not for a weekday dinner. Like most of the recipes in this book, this is not a "throw-it-together" meal. There's a lot of chopping, mincing, and dicing going on here. Depending on how good your knife skills are and how fast you are, it could take you from 30 minutes to an hour to get everything prepped and ready to go. I've split the difference in the Prep Time estimate below.

Another telltale clue that Puck is used to thinking in terms of restaurant cooking, not home cooking: the burger mixture calls for a teaspoon of minced onion. In a restaurant kitchen, coming across a teaspoon of minced onion is no big deal -- even if you can't find it already prepped, you can mince up an entire onion and know that it won't go to waste. But in a home kitchen, what are you supposed to do with the remaining onion after you've shaved off a thin slice and minced it to get your 1 teaspoon? I suppose you could wrap it up and save it, or if you're making something else that needs onions, no problem. But if you're just making this one recipe, you're left with practically an entire onion that is going to go to waste if you don't use it up within a day or so. I opted to avoid this situation altogether and used the white part of one of the green onions called for in the compote recipe for the minced onion in the burger recipe. No fuss, no muss.

Also a bit problematic: the burger recipe calls for 2 pounds of ground turkey. Again, in a restaurant this is no big deal. But for the home chef who's buying prepackaged ground turkey at the grocery store, an issue arises, because ground turkey is sold in 1.25 pound packages. So you've got to buy 2 packages, but then you have 2.5 pounds of turkey. To make sure I made the recipe exactly as written, I busted out the kitchen scale and weighed the extra 8 oz. that needed to be discarded. If you don't have a kitchen scale, or don't want to dirty it up, you could eyeball a couple of big handfuls of ground turkey and remove them. And then you could...wrap it up and freeze it, I guess, although I'm not sure what you could make with just 8 oz. of ground turkey. It's a little bit annoying. If you only want to make 4 burgers, you could halve the recipe and use 1 package of ground turkey, discarding a small handful. It's not an issue that can't be worked around, but it does point out that adjustments have to be made to some of Puck's recipes before they're completely home-kitchen-friendly.

And then there's the tomato concassé. The compote recipe lists "1 cup tomato concassé" and gives the page number. When you turn to that page, you'll find instructions for the technique, but no indication of yield; that is, how many tomatoes does one need to end up with 1 cup of tomato concassé? I'm pretty good at eyeballing these things, but I was glad that I had tossed one extra tomato into my grocery basket, because it took five plum tomatoes to make the required 1 cup of concassé, and I had thought it would only take four. If you're in doubt about how many tomatoes you need, err on the side of too many; the compote recipe will easily incorporate extra tomatoes.

Surprisingly, Puck doesn't recommend toasting the hamburger buns before serving. I think they taste much better if they're heated through quickly right before serving. You can toss them on the grill, under the broiler, or in the skillet for a minute or two to lightly toast them just before assembling the burgers.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 8 burgers

Turkey Mushroom Burgers
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced onion (use the white part of 1 of the green onions you bought for the compote)
1 bay leaf
1 pound button mushrooms, rinsed and finely chopped
1 pound portobello mushrooms, wiped clean and cut into 1/4-inch dice
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano

Chunky Tomato Salsa Compote
1 cup tomato concassé (see note, above, and instructions, below)
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup minced green onion
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp minced jalapeño pepper
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt

For Cooking and Serving
2 Tbsp olive oil, for oiling the grill rack or heating in a skillet
8 hamburger buns
10 ounces queso fresco (fresh white Mexican cheese) or other mild white cheese, crumbled or shredded
Thinly sliced red onion
Romaine lettuce leaves

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and when butter has melted, add the garlic, onion, and bay leaf and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated and the mixture looks almost dry, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the thyme and oregano. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Remove the bay leaf.

Put the turkey in a large mixing bowl and add the cooled mushroom mixture. Stir with a spoon or mix with your hands until the turkey and mushrooms are thoroughly combined. Add salt and pepper.

Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions, forming each into a compact, even ball. To form the patties, place a sheet of plastic wrap about 12 inches long on a work surface and brush it with some olive oil. Put a ball of the turkey mixture in the center of half of the sheet and fold the other half over it. With the back of a plate, press down on the ball to flatten it to an even patty about 3/4 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining turkey mixture. Refrigerate until ready to cook (if making in advance, layer the patties in a plastic container, using waxed paper between each layer).

To make the Chunky Tomato Salsa Compote: In a small saucepan, combine the tomato concassé, red and green onion, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeño, vegetable oil, honey, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

To cook: use a charcoal or gas grill, indoor grill pan, oven broiler, or heavy skillet. Preheat to high. Use the 2 Tbsp of olive oil to grease the grill or pan, and cook the turkey burgers until cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

To serve: toast the hamburger buns (on the grill, under the broiler, or in a skillet) until warmed through and lightly browned. Top each bun with a turkey burger, a generous spoonful of the Chunky Tomato Salsa Compote, some red onion slices, some white cheese, and a romaine leaf. Serve immediately.

Tomato Concassé
4 large or 5 medium plum or Roma tomatoes

Score an X on the flower end of the tomatoes. Drop them into a large saucepan of boiling water and blanch for about 30 seconds. Drain, then drop the tomatoes into a bowl of ice water. Remove and peel the skins off with your fingers, or a paring knife if necessary. Core the stem ends. Halve lengthwise and remove the seeds with your fingers. Slice lengthwise, then crosswise to make fine dice. Makes about 1 cup.

October 13, 2005

Live, Love, Eat!: Chinois Chicken Salad

This is the signature salad at Wolfgang Puck's Santa Monica restaurant Chinois. It's a very nice dish, and easy to assemble, although there are a few things that I'd do differently with the recipe.

One way that I can tell that Wolfgang Puck is used to cooking in a restaurant kitchen, not a home kitchen, is his instructions for the chicken in this recipe. He tells the cook to roast an entire chicken, with "finely diced" celery, onion, and carrot in the cavity. In other words, mirepoix. In a restaurant, the finely diced combination of celery, onion, and carrot known as mirepoix is always available -- there are prep cooks whose job it is to make the stuff every morning. But at home? Finely dicing the vegetables that are going into the cavity of a roasted chicken is overkill, and extra work for the cook. It's just as effective, and much less time-consuming, to roughly chop the veggies.

Puck instructs the cook to then shred the roasted breasts and thighs for the salad while reserving the rest of the meat and the carcass for chicken stock. In a restaurant, this is the cost-effective way to use chicken. But for the home cook, it's a bit of work that could be avoided by simply using chicken breasts to make the salad. If you're a highly organized cook who makes your own stock, then Puck's method will make sense for you. But if you're like me, and the impulse to make this salad strikes you one evening when you're hungry and don't want to do a lot of prep work, then do as I do and simply poach a couple of chicken breasts. No need to wait for an hour and a half while a whole chicken roasts in the oven.

The flavors are outstanding, with the Chinese mustard providing a bit of kick to the vinaigrette, and the sesame seeds adding a bit of crunch.

A note about the yield; Puck says the recipe serves 2 as a main course. I'd say those are very generous servings. I had enough salad to feed 4 people at lunchtime.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 15 minutes for the chicken
Yield: 2 BIG main course servings, or four regular person servings

Chinese Mustard Vinaigrette
2 tsp dry Chinese or English (Colman's) mustard
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp light sesame oil
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp peanut oil

Chicken Salad
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise
1 onion and 2 ribs celery, optional
2 small or 1 medium head napa cabbage
1 cup romaine lettuce, cut into 1/4-inch strips
10 snow peas, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds

For the vinaigrette: combine all ingredients, except peanut oil, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. With the machine running, add peanut oil in a slow steady stream. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.

For the chicken: place chicken breasts strips in a large saucepan with water to cover by 2 inches. If desired, add a roughly chopped onion and a couple of ribs of roughly chopped celery. Bring the water to a gentle simmer. Do not boil. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand into bite-sized pieces.

Select 4 to 8 nice-looking leaves from the napa cabbage and reserve them. Slice the remaining cabbage crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, romaine, snow peas, and chicken. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat well.

Arrange the reserved leaves around the edge of a large serving platter and mound the salad in the center. Alternatively, mound the salad atop the whole reserved leaves on individual serving plates. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

Live, Love, Eat!: Baked Apple Pouches with Cinnamon and Raisins

A tasty apple dessert with a pretty presentation. If you like apple dumplings or turnovers, you'll like this one.

Puck wraps an apple-raisin filling inside egg roll wrappers to form little pouches in this recipe. The filling is quite tart, but when eaten alongside vanilla ice cream, the flavors balance well. Don't be scared off by the pouch concept: it only takes about 10 minutes to wrap up all the pouches.

If the tops of the egg roll skins are getting too brown before the rest of the pouch looks crisp, place a sheet of aluminum foil lightly over the top of the pouches.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Yield: 8 pouches

7 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 pound Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup golden raisins
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
16 large egg roll skins
Confectioner's sugar, for garnish
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter; pour off 1/4 cup of melted butter and set it aside. Add the apples, sugar, raisins, lemon juice, and cinnamon and sauté, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender, about 8 minutes.

While the apples are cooking, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and cut 8 pieces of kitchen string, about 6-8 inches long each, and set aside.

In the sauté pan, divide the apple filling into eight roughly equal portions. Place an egg roll skin on a flat work surface with one of the points facing towards you. Place another skin on top, perfectly aligned with the first. Spoon one portion of apple filling into the center of the wrappers and gather the corners up around the filling to create a pouch. Tie the pouch around the top with a piece of kitchen string. Don't worry if some of the wrapper isn't completely contained within the string. Don't tie the string too tight. Transfer the pouch to the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients to make 8 pouches in all.

Brush the pouches with the reserved melted butter. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake the pouches until their wrappers are golden and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the pouches to individual serving plates and snip the strings off with kitchen shears. Dust each pouch with powdered sugar and and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

From My Kitchen: Pumpkin Pancakes with Cinnamon Syrup

More pumpkin! These pancakes have a delicate pumpkin flavor and a soufflé-like texture.

You can skip the cinnamon syrup if you wish, but it does add a nice something extra to the pancakes. Make the syrup first, so it has time to infuse. If you like a stronger pumpkin-pie-type flavor, increase the spices slightly.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: about 10 minutes
Yield: about eight 3-inch diameter pancakes

Scant 1 cup milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 cup flour
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves

1 large egg, separated
1/3 cup pumpkin purée
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil to brush griddle

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat.

Combine scant cup of milk and lemon juice and let sit for 5 minutes to clabber. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk egg white into milk mixture. Mix egg yolk with melted butter, then combine in a large bowl with the pumpkin purée. Pour in the egg white-milk mixture and combine thoroughly. Dump dry ingredients into the bowl and whisk until just combined.

Brush the preheated griddle or pan with vegetable oil. When a drop of water sizzles on the griddle, pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the griddle. Do not crowd the pancakes. When the tops of the pancakes begin to bubble, about 2 to 3 minutes, flip the pancakes and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Re-oil the pan or skillet before cooking the next batch.

Cinnamon Syrup
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick

Pour syrup into a 2-cup Pyrex measure, or other microwave-safe container. Drop in the cinnamon stick. Heat in the microwave until syrup boils, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and let the cinnamon flavor infuse the syrup, about 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick before serving.

October 12, 2005

Better Than Pie: Pumpkin Cheesecake

Even though I love pumpkin in nearly every incarnation, I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie. I'd rather have pretty much any other pumpkin dessert. This cheesecake has graced my Thanksgiving table for the last couple of years. It's delicious, and so much more satisfying than plain ol' pie.

The recipe comes from the November/December 2003 edition of Cook's Illustrated magazine. The only adjustment I've had to make is in the equipment: CI instructs the cook to wrap the springform pan with foil to protect it from the water bath as it bakes. But they use 18-inch square foil, which is only available at restaurant supply shops in my area. After a couple of trial-and-error attempts to use standard 12-inch wide foil, I've taken to using an inexpensive, thin foil roasting pan and bending it around the outside of the springform pan. This provides enough protection for the cake while in the water bath, and keeps the water from seeping in.

Another bonus: the recipe can be made up to 3 days in advance, giving you plenty of time for your other Thanksgiving projects. Brown Sugar and Bourbon Cream is the suggested accompaniment for the cheesecake, and I give the recipe below. I've never tried it; the cheesecake all by itself is plenty yummy to me. But a bit of whipped cream topping surely can't be bad.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Bake Time: about 1 1/2 hours
Yield: one 9-inch cake, about 12 to 16 servings

5 ounces graham crackers (9 whole crackers)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp salt
15-oz. can pumpkin
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks and left to soften at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
5 large eggs, left at room temperature about 30 minutes
1 cup heavy cream

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse graham crackers, sugar, and spices in a food processor until evenly and finely ground, about fifteen 2-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl, drizzle melted butter over, and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened. Turn crumbs into prepared pan; using your hand, spread crumbs into an even layer. Using a flat-bottomed ramekin or drinking glass, press crumbs evenly into pan bottom, then use a soup spoon to press and smooth crumbs into edges of pan. Bake until fragrant and browned about the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while making the filling.

For the water bath: Bring about 4 quarts of water to simmer in a stockpot.

To remove excess moisture from the pumpkin, line a baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin on the paper towels in a roughly even layer. Cover the pumpkin with a second triple layer of paper towels and press firmly until paper towels are saturated. Peel back the top layer of paper towels and discard. Grasp the bottom towels and fold pumpkin in half; peel back the towels. Flip pumpkin off the towels onto the baking sheet: it should flop right off in a solid mass. Do not skip this step! The excess moisture in the pumpkin will make the filling taste watery if it's not removed.

For the filling: Whisk sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl; set aside. In a standing mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat cream cheese at medium speed to break up and soften slightly, about 1 minute. Scrape beater and sides of bowl well with a rubber spatula. Add about one third of the sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape bowl and add remaining sugar in two additions, scraping after each addition. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat at medium speed until combined, about 45 seconds; scrape bowl. Add 3 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute; scrape bowl. Add remaining 2 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute; scrape bowl. Add heavy cream and beat at low speed until combined, about 45 seconds. Using rubber spatula, scrape bottom and sides of bowl and give the mixture a final stir by hand.

Set springform pan with cooled crust inside a thin foil pan (I found that a small roasting pan fits the best). Bend the foil pan up and around the sides of the springform pan, making as tight a seal as you can (there will be gaps). Set the wrapped pan into a metal roasting pan or a Pyrex baking dish. Pour the filling into the springform pan and smooth the surface. Set the pans into the oven and pour the simmering water into the roasting pan or Pyrex dish; enough to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until center of cake is slightly wobbly when pan is shaken and center of cake registers 145 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (start checking at 1 hour). Run a paring knife around the sides of the cake to loosen; set roasting pan or Pyrex on a wire rack and cool until water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove springform pan from the water bath and discard the foil wrapper. Continue to cool on wire rack until barely warm, about 3 hours. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Brown Sugar and Bourbon Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp bourbon

Whisk heavy cream, sour cream, brown sugar, and salt until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve cheesecake, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Stir once or twice during chilling to ensure that the sugar dissolves.

When ready to serve cheesecake, add bourbon and beat mixture until fluffy and doubled in volume, about 2 minutes. Spoon cream on top of cheesecake slices.

October 10, 2005

From My Kitchen: Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Have you been afraid to try to make crème brûlée at home because it seems too complicated or difficult? The enormous popularity of a simple custard dessert has been one of the restaurant industry's favorite shortcuts over the last 10 years. Crème brûlée couldn't be simpler to make, as long as you invest in a couple of relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment. Essentially, it's pudding with sugar on top. No need to pay $7.00 for it at a trendy bistro when you can make it at home.

The most important thing you need for crème brûlée at home is a culinary torch. You can find them at amazon.com for as little as $30.

The other thing you need is custard cups or oval ramekins. I prefer to use shallow oval-shaped ones, since more surface area = more crunchy sugar topping. But round ramekins also work.

The vanilla flavor can be strong, mild, or nonexistent in this recipe, depending on how you use the vanilla bean. For strong vanilla tones, use a whole bean. Slice it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out into the heavy cream, then drop the pod into the cream and infuse. For moderate vanilla flavor, just drop a whole bean into the cream. After you infuse the cream for about 10 minutes, you can remove the whole bean, rinse it off, let it dry, and reserve it for future use. If you'd prefer that the other spices (cinnamon, cloves, and ginger) predominate, omit the vanilla altogether.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 45 to 60 minutes
Yield: 6 custard cups or oval ramekins

2 cups heavy cream
1 whole vanilla bean, optional (see notes, above)
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Granulated sugar, for the topping

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Heat heavy cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat, adding vanilla if using. Once cream is hot, reduce heat to low and infuse with vanilla for 5 to 10 minutes (if omitting vanilla, turn heat off and reserve the cream). Remove vanilla bean and discard or reserve for future use.

Combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and spices in a large bowl. Pour the hot cream very gradually into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Once about half of the hot cream is incorporated, you can add the remainder more quickly. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup. The pumpkin will have some pulpy strands that may clog up the sieve, so you may need to strain in batches, scraping out and discarding the pumpkin pulp as you go.

Arrange custard cups or oval ramekins in a large baking dish, and pour water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the custard cups. Fill the cups with the custard mixture and carefully transfer to the oven. Bake until the custard is set, but still somewhat jiggly in the middle, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the custard cool in the water bath. When water is cool enough to touch, remove the cups from the heat and continue to cool. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until serving time. Allow the custard at least 1 hour to get cold in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, pour about 1 tsp of granulated sugar over the top of each custard (experiment with the amount to find out how much crunch you like on top of your crème brûlée. If you like a paper-thin layer, use less sugar. For a more substantial wall o' sugar, use more). Using a culinary torch, melt the sugar until it crackles and turns brown. It will solidify almost immediately. Serve and enjoy!

October 09, 2005

Pumpkin Muffins

When you don't want your pumpkin in loaf form, try it as muffins.

This recipe is adapted from The Quick Recipe, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine. Even though their recipes undergo rigorous testing, sometimes I feel the need to make adjustments based on my individual preferences. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of dark brown sugar, but I find that the muffins are already really sweet, since the recipe uses pumpkin pie filling, instead of plain canned pumpkin. I've reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup, and that works just fine -- the muffins are flavorful without being cloying. If you only have light brown sugar, that'll work. The dark brown sugar adds a bit more molasses flavor, but it's not critical to the success of the recipe.

If you like more stuff in your muffins, you can add up to 1/2 cup of nuts, pumpkin seeds, dates, dried apricots, or raisins.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 18 to 22 minutes
Yield: 12 standard muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin pie filling
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Optional: up to 1/2 cup chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds, dates, apricots, or raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a standard muffin tin (12 muffin-size) with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Whisk together the egg and brown sugar in a large bowl until combined. Add pumpkin pie filling to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add the butter and stir vigorously until thick and homogeneous. Add half of the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the two begin to come together; then add the remaining dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. (If using optional ingredients, add now, stirring gently.)

Use an ice cream scoop or a large spoon to drop the batter into the greased muffin tin. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes (rotate the muffin tin from front to back halfway through the cooking time). Cool muffins in the tin for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack; cool for 10 more minutes before serving.

Yay for Fall: Pumpkin Spice Bread

I'm not much of a baker during the summertime. For some reason, peach cobbler and blueberry pie don't really appeal to me. But when the weather changes and there's a chill in the air, I start to get the urge to make pumpkin quick bread, pumpkin crème brûlée, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pancakes...and the occasional cranberry tart.

This recipe comes from the Sunset Magazine Recipe Annual, 1989 edition. I've been making it every fall for more than 15 years. The only change I've made to the original recipe is to increase the apricots from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. It's easy to assemble and has a lovely flavor. Like most quick breads, it has a soft crumb and falls apart easily if you try to slice it while it's still warm from the oven. Serve it as is, or with butter or cream cheese.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 50 to 60 minutes
Yield: 1 loaf, approximately 2 1/2 pounds

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each baking powder, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and ground ginger
1/2 cup each chopped walnuts and chopped dates
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil, and orange juice with a handheld mixer or a whisk. In a medium bowl, combine flour with baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Add to egg mixture and beat to blend. Stir in nuts, dates, and apricots. Pour into the loaf pan and smooth out the top.

Bake about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (start checking at 50 minutes). Cool 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert bread onto a plate or a cooling rack. Let cool completely before attempting to slice. To serve warm, heat slices briefly in microwave or toaster oven.

October 05, 2005

Rachael Ray: 30-Minute Meals 2


Hey, Rachael Ray can cook!

After the mess that was 30-Minute Get Real Meals , I figured I should give Rachael Ray another chance. She's an extremely popular cookbook author, and I assumed that she must be more successful when she's cooking in her own element, rather than according to a marketing plan.

Happily, 30-Minute Meals 2 is a better cookbook than 30-Minute Get Real Meals . Rachael Ray is cooking real food here, not a fad or trendy diet, and this book can be, at times, a handy tool. Some recipes are excellent, while others are downright weird.

The book is set up in a menu format, usually consisting of Main Dish, Side Dish, Dessert. This makes it easy to throw together a dinner, since the question "What should I serve with this?" is already answered. For example, Ray serves Rio Grande Spice Rub Strip Steaks with Cracked Corn and Cheese Squares and Mexican Fiesta Salad. Or Ravioli Vegetable 'Lasagna' with Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette and Fresh Oranges with Lime Sorbet. It would also be easy to mix and match main dishes with side dishes -- the Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette would also pair nicely with Chicken Picatta Pasta Toss.

Rachael Ray is most successful in 30-Minute Meals 2 when she's cooking Italian-style food. When she steps away from her familiar cuisine, things can get strange. For simple meals like grilled steak, she's fine. But when she gets way outside her comfort zone, the recipes really don't work. Prime example: Ray's got a section of the book called "Make Your Own Take-Out." She encourages cooks to make their own versions of popular take-out foods, saying "In as much time as it takes to wait for the pizza guy or to drive to the local Chinese take-out, you can make your own, and be sure that the food is fresh and reasonably good for you by controlling the quality of ingredients, especially the salt and fat content."

Which sounds great, but what if your home-made take-out doesn't taste anything like the real thing? Both of the Indian-style recipes in this book are failures. Neither one comes close to tasting like Indian food. And the majority of the Make-Your-Own Take-Out recipes are burgers. I don't know about you, but assembling ground turkey/salmon/mushrooms/beef/etc. into patties and throwing it on a grill doesn't sound like something I'm likely to do when my first impulse is to ring up for pizza delivery, you know?

The Italian recipes fared much better in my tests. Without fail, they were tasty and pretty easy to prepare. I would make most of them again. Ray has a very good feel around Italian ingredients and methods, so the recipes are easy to follow and the flavors are strong.

The book suffers from an excess of "aw-shucks" cutesiness. I've gathered, from watching her in a couple of episodes of "$40 a Day," that that's her TV persona. And it seems to be working for her, so she's clearly got no motivation to mess with success. The perkiness can grate on the reader, however. The book's introduction is particularly annoying, containing a lot of "I'm so lucky" blathering from Ray, and a goofy Q&A (sample question: "Is Bobby Flay really hot in person?" Answer: "Yes!" Ooookay. If you say so...)

One of the Q&A questions asks if these are really 30-Minute meals, and her answer, simply, is "Yup." Which...not so much. Just as with 30-Minute Get Real Meals , I found that most of the recipes in 30-Minute Meals 2 took longer than thirty minutes to prepare. Some of them took up to an hour. Given that the "30-Minute" promise is Rachael Ray's big selling point, I find it disingenuous to claim breezily that every meal in this book can be prepared that quickly. They simply can't.

30-Minute Meals 2: Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette

An easy salad that pairs well with some of the richer dishes in 30-Minute Meals 2.

I was curious about how the lemon curd would integrate into the dressing, since it's usually used as a baking and pastry ingredient. Surprisingly, it adds a nice lemon flavor and body to the tangy dressing.

Ray's love for fussy presentation rears its head again here; she'd have you quarter the romaine hearts, put them on the plate, dot the edges of the plate with tomatoes, and then drizzle the dressing over the top. Cute, perhaps, but not the easiest thing to eat. I chopped the romaine into bite-sized pieces and tossed it with the tomatoes and dressing.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1/4 cup lemon curd (found on the baking aisle, or with jams and jellies)
2 Tbsp white vinegar
10 chives, chopped
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 hearts romaine lettuce
1/2 pint grape tomatoes

In a small bowl, heat lemon curd 15 seconds in microwave. Remove from microwave and whisk in vinegar. Allow mixture to cool 2 minutes, add chives, and whisk in olive oil in a steady stream (taste after you've whisked in about 1/3 cup. If the dressing is too tangy for your taste, add more olive oil). Season with salt and pepper.

Quarter each heart of romaine lengthwise. Trim core at ends. Place 2 quarters on each salad plate. Halve a few grape tomatoes and place at plates' edges for garnish. Drizzle liberally with vinaigrette and serve.

Alternatively, chop the romaine into bite-sized pieces. Halve the grape tomatoes. Toss lettuce, tomatoes, and vinaigrette together in a large bowl. Serve on salad plates or in bowls.

30-Minute Meals 2: Warm Cherry, Orange, and Cranberry Compote with Vanilla Ice Cream

This is about as elaborate as Rachael Ray's desserts get. It's easy to throw together and makes a nice fall or winter dessert.

If you can find Morello cherries in a jar, use those instead of the canned cherries called for in the recipe. My local Trader Joe's market carries jarred Morellos, and their flavor is superior to anything you'll find in a can. I made this recipe with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and ginger snaps from Trader Joe's. It's a yummy combination.

Prep and Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 can (15 oz.) pitted cherries (or use jarred Morello cherries, see note above)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 pint vanilla ice cream
Ginger snaps, vanilla wafers, or cinnamon sugar cookies, to garnish

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine cherries and their juice, orange zest and juice, and the dried sweetened cranberries. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high, 1 minute.

Stir fruit, and microwave 1 minute longer. Let fruit stand for 5 minutes, then spoon over scoops of vanilla ice cream. Garnish with cookies. For breakfast or brunch, try serving the compote with plain or vanilla yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche.

30-Minute Meals 2: Fresh Oranges with Lime Sorbet

An example of the type of desserts that Rachael Ray goes for: a little fresh fruit, some store-bought sorbet, and voila! You're good to go.

Baking clearly isn't one of Ray's strong suits. This refreshing combination of oranges and sorbet is one of the simplest desserts in the book. In other desserts, she often adds cookies or liqueur to fruit or store-bought cake. For a somewhat more involved dessert from 30-Minute Meals 2, try Warm Cherry, Orange, and Cranberry Compote with Vanilla Ice Cream.

The original recipe calls for "naval" oranges. The kind who go off to sea, I suppose...

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 large navel oranges
1 pint lime, lemon, or other fruit sorbet

Trim a piece of skin off the top and bottom of each orange, then cut in half crosswise. Section each half as you would a grapefruit. Set oranges upright and top each half orange with sorbet. The halved, sectioned oranges double as the dessert bowls for the sorbet.

30-Minute Meals 2: Emmanuel's Baked Artichoke Hearts

Rachael Ray remarks in her notes for this recipe that it's an update of a favorite recipe of her grandfather Emmanuel's. She streamlines his time-consuming stuffed artichoke recipe by topping artichoke halves with bread crumb stuffing and baking. The results are very good.

If you're wary of anchovies, this dish might be the one to win you over. They really do just melt away into the olive oil once you break them up with a spoon, and their flavor isn't the slightest bit fishy. Try it!

Use a fairly small casserole dish so that you can fit all of the artichoke halves closely together (I used an 8-inch diameter, 1-quart capacity Pyrex dish). Ray's recipe called for 15-oz. cans of artichoke hearts, which I couldn't find. My store carried 13.75-oz cans, which I called close enough. Use what you can find in your area -- 13-oz., 14-oz., whatever you've got.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings

2 cans (approx. 14 oz. each) artichoke hearts in water (large 6 to 8 count size)
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to coat baking dish
1/4 lemon
1 Tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
6 anchovy fillets
1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drain artichoke hearts. Cut them in half lengthwise. Drizzle a small casserole dish with a little olive oil and arrange artichokes in it, tops up and bottoms down. Squeeze the juice of 1/4 lemon over them.

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter is melted, add garlic and anchovies. Using the back of a wooden spoon, break the anchovies up into the oil. When anchovies have dissolved, add bread crumbs and lightly toast, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add parsley, cheese, and black pepper. Top artichokes with an even layer of bread topping and bake 10 minutes, or until topping is deep golden brown. Serve with Chicken Picatta Pasta Toss.

30-Minute Meals 2: Chicken Picatta Pasta Toss

A clever, successful way to update an old favorite into a less time-consuming recipe. Ray takes the basics of Chicken Picatta and transforms them into this pasta-based dish. As with all of the Italian recipes of hers that I've tested, she really shines when she's cooking in this cuisine. Italian food is her forte, and this recipe bears that out.

I've made a couple of adjustments to the recipe as it appears in 30-Minute Meals 2. I increased the amount of lemon juice from Ray's original "juice of 1 lemon" to a full 1/4 cup, which might require more than one lemon. If you like capers, feel free to add more.

Ray says this recipe makes 4 servings. I think it's closer to 8 servings, myself. If you have leftovers, add about 1/3 cup of chicken broth to each serving when reheating, otherwise the dish will be dry. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice over reheated leftovers also helps to perk the flavor back up.

In the 30-Minute Meals menu format, this dish is paired with Emmanuel's Baked Artichoke Hearts, which are also delicious.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings

1 pound penne rigate
2 Tbsp olive oil
1.25 pounds chicken tenders
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 medium shallots, chopped
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 chicken broth or stock
3 Tbsp capers, drained
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Chopped or snipped chives, optional

Bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, add salt (at least 2 Tbsp) and penne. Cook according to package directions, then drain, return to pan, cover, and keep warm.

Cut chicken tenders into 1 inch pieces. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp oil to the pan. When oil is shimmering, add chicken. Season with salt and pepper, and brown until lightly golden all over, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Return pan to stove and reduce heat to medium. Add another Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, the garlic, and the shallots, and sauté 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes. Whisk in wine, then add chicken stock and lemon juice. Stir in capers and parsley. Bring mixture to a gentle boil, then add remaining 1 Tbsp of butter. Return chicken to the pan and heat through, 1 minute. Add chicken mixture to the pasta, stirring to combine well. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with chives, if desired.




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